A FIRE-Side Chat with Mr. and Mrs. SSC

A FIRE-Side Chat

Hello folks! I have something special for you today, a FIRE-side chat with Mr. and Mrs. SSC from Slowly Sipping Coffee! The FIRE-side chat is an interview series I’ve started to share the journey toward FIRE (Financial Independence Retiring Early) from others. I’m a believer that personal finance is personal and it is important to find our own path toward FIRE. I think hearing from others is a great way to help us formulate our own ideas and our own path.

So without further ado, let’s hear from Mr. and Mrs. SSC!

Introduction Questions:

First, tell me a little bit about yourself. Who you are and what’s your story?

We’re the SSC’s and we are documenting our journey to FIRE (Financially Independent Retire Early) or FFLC (Fully Funded Lifestyle Change) as we refer to it, while we work and raise our 2 kids. I’m Mr. SSC and mostly write the blog posts, and Mrs. SSC crunches all the numbers and does the heavy financial lifting. We met during an internship at a megacorp O&G company, fell in love, and got married the next year. Since then we’ve had 2 kids and have both left said megacorp for other opportunities. It was a good opportunity for us both to get better schedules than we currently had and start taking small steps to break away from the crazy busy life we’d built for ourselves. We just want a little more free time to be able to sit around and “slowly sip some coffee”.

When did your interest in personal finance begin? Did your parents have an active role in your financial literacy growing up?

My interest in personal finance began about 3 years ago, lol. It wasn’t until the light went off for me that we could actually retire early and still live comfortably before I got a real interest in PF. Since then I’ve read loads of blogs, articles and done lots of research on my own to better educate myself about DIY investing among other things.

My parents played a role in my financial literacy by showing me what I didn’t want out of life. We grew up really poor, so every month was a game of chicken on whether or not utilities were getting turned off, we had enough money left over for real groceries instead of eating a lot of rice for most meals, and that style of living.

Mrs. SSC’s background was remarkably different in that her parents were more stable, had better paying jobs and taught her the importance of no debt, saving money, and gave her a good foundation of financial literacy, thank goodness.

At what point did you learn about and begin your FIRE journey?

I learned about the FIRE concept when Mrs. SSC emailed me an article from “some Moustache guy” talking about living off of $25k/yr and how he quit his 6 figure engineer job to pursue that lifestyle. My response was initially, “Hahahahaha… No. I’ve lived off of $25k/yr and it sucks! It’s not glamorous and I’m not quitting my job just to “not work.”

Mrs. SSC found FIRE thru MMM’s site after a long period of unhappiness at work. Unbeknownst to me our FIRE journey began around 2009, when she ramped up our “non-401k” investment contributions. We didn’t discover the actual FIRE concept or acronym until closer to 2013 though.

FIRE Journey Questions:

Where are you currently on your path toward FIRE? Just starting, retired already, or somewhere in the middle?

We are currently about 2-3 years away from FIRE, and probably a year or so away from FFLC. What’s the difference in those dates you ask? The main difference is that by 2019 we should be FI, as in able to support ourselves off of our investments without outside income. However, prior to that if Mrs. SSC got a teaching job outside of Houston, I’d quit my job to be a stay at home dad, and our “Mostly Funded Lifestyle Change” would begin. I say mostly because we wouldn’t be at FI and able to live totally off of our investments, but as long as her job covers our daily costs, we’re golden. So our FFLC idea could begin as soon as next year, or coincide with FI in 2019, and I’m happy with either to be honest.

If you are still on the road to FIRE, when do you expect to reach your goal and what’s your strategy to achieve it?

Oops, see above. 🙂

If you are already in FIRE, reflect on your path and if there were any things you would change if you had to do it again? Or conversely, what would you make sure you do again on your journey?

The only thing I’d make sure to do again on my journey would be to marry Mrs. SSC. Without her, I’d probably be living the “American Dream” but be living paycheck to paycheck or close to it. She’s made a huge difference in my life in SO many ways beyond finances, but being financially stable is a huge one.

Tell me how you would consider your FIRE journey to be unique.

I’d say we’re unique in that we’re not necessarily looking to retire as much as dramatically change our lifestyle. Add in raising 2 kids and trying to account for how that will affect things 5-10 or even 15 years down the road and it gets pretty tricky. Neither of us is “calm” enough to be able to just quit working, but we want to have time to do things we’re more passionate about. Mrs. SSC already started that with her career change and massive paycut, which she was able to do because we put ourselves in such a good financial position. So we’re not in it for the RE as much as the FI and freedom to pursue the Lifestyle Change associated with that.

Strategizing FIRE Questions:

What has been your primary motivation to reach FIRE?

Our kids have been the primary motivator. Essentially spending more time with them is the biggest driver for us to want to change our Lifestyle and have the freedom to do more stuff with them.

What has been your greatest success in the “engineering” your life path or lifestyle? Or are you more of the “go with the flow” type?

For me, it was marrying Mrs. SSC, for us as a family, it would be Mrs. SSC being our CFO.

Since everyone can’t marry her, the best thing we ever did was start tracking our spending, coupled with asking ourselves before every purchase, “Is this a need or a want?” The first month of trying that, we reduced our credit card spending by almost 20%. After we realized how much money we were literally just pissing away each month, we tried harder and had that much more available to invest. This isn’t in lieu of giving up comforts either, as I’d say we live comfortably, but you’d be amazed how much money you can fritter away on nothing and not realize it.

I can’t remember where I heard this first, but I hold dear the advice that it is important to “retire to” something rather than “retiring from” something. What will you be retiring to?

I totally agree, and our Lifestyle Change will definitely have its own ikigai. I’m not sure about Mrs. SSC as she may be working, but my main focus will most likely be the kids. I have loads of hobbies, but want to spend more time volunteering with their schools, sports if they’re into them then, music, etc… Mainly be more involved with their lives. I also would like to be more involved in something around our community, and have a few things I’m passionate about that could work, but it will all depend on where we end up and what’s available.

What will your housing situation be like in retirement? Do you plan on moving to a low cost area, to the beach or mountains? Or will you become nomadic, traveling the world more freely?

Our housing situation will be so up in the air, it’s hard to say. Mrs. SSC wants to live out West for a while and if we move out there without her teaching, then we will rent for a year or so to make sure we’re not scared away from the icy grips of winter after being on the Gulf Coast for over a decade. After that, we will buy a place outright. Closer to mountains than a beach, but we haven’t settled on East coast vs West Coast being better for us yet.

Wealth Creation Questions:

Retiring early is quite an extraordinary feat…and requires some pretty extraordinary behaviors to rapidly create wealth. In your focus on wealth creation, do you tend to gravitate toward making more money or arresting expenses?

For us, it was arresting expenses and not succumbing to lifestyle creep. With 2 oil salaries it would be easy to buy what we want, when we want, and just chug along to retirement at 65 or so. Reigning in our excessive spending freed up almost a whole salary to invest. With that said, had I not gone back to grad school and gotten myself moved further along salary-wise in my career, I wouldn’t be this close to it. Arresting expenses is important, but focusing on how to make more money to add to investments is just as important I think. Anything you can do to invest in yourself and increase your salary or income will add more than cutting costs, because at some point, you can only cut costs so far.

What has been one of your biggest successes in either advancing your career to make more money or taking control on the expense side to progress on your journey toward FIRE?

Us tracking our spending freed up close to $25k in funds we were just frittering away, that we could then invest. More cuts led to more funds to invest and that worked out great for us.

Leaving my old megacorp for a different company was my biggest success in advancing my career and making more money. I got almost a 30% base salary raise, a nice sign on bonus, and they actually have retention incentives and better bonuses than my old megacorp. That added even more funds to invest. Had I stayed at my old position, I’d be scrambling to find work because I most likely would have been laid off 2 yrs ago.

While controlling expenses are important, you still need to live and enjoy life. What is one or two of your favorite areas to spend money on?

I can’t think of any specifics. We increased our family entertainment budget from lowering our allowances, and that allows for stuff like bowling, dining out, and movies with the kids which we didn’t usually do much of before. We’re hoping to do more fun stuff with them. The rest of the things we enjoy doing is going to the pool or enjoying one of the many playgrounds and parks in our neighborhood. That’s covered with our HOA dues, so nothing above and beyond “normal” operating expenses really.

The Wrap-Up:

If you won the lottery or received a large inheritance to the tune of $1 million or so, what would you do with it and why?

I’d invest it and quit working. Yep, that simple. Mrs. SSC would invest it and keep teaching, still pretty simple.

What is your favorite finance and non-finance related book, podcast, magazine, blog, etc and why?

My favorite finance blogs are too many to put out there in list form. I like finding new blogs through commenters so my PF circle grows a lot. Mrs. SSC’s favorites are still old school MMM, like pre 2015 when he was still putting out great advice, ways to change your perspective on life and the stuff that got him so popular to begin with.

Non-PF related stuff, I love Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and John Geirach. Geirach is great for when I can’t get to fly-fish and his stories are awesome and make me feel like I’m in the stream with him experiencing the same things he is. Adams and Douglas are great storytellers and I love their prose and quirky way of wording simple sentences. One of my favorite and influential books though was Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Just getting a glimpse into another way of living and approaching life did wonders for me when I read that.

What advice would you give to folks considering or just starting their journey toward FIRE?

Track your expenses, track your spending, and ask, “Is this a want or a need?” That alone will highlight all sorts of places that anyone can save money regardless of income or debt level. Next would be reduce your debt if you have any, followed by start a Vanguard account and start contributing to an IRA, or investing in index funds, or whatever is the most comfortable vehicle for you to put your newfound extra money in.

If you are a fellow blogger, where can I find you?

We blog at Slowly Sipping Coffee, feel free to stop by and find us there. Thanks for having us on the FIRE side chat!

 

Thanks for sitting down and chatting, Mr. and Mrs. SSC! I had a great time!

I hope you give these coffee drinkers a follow and check out their blog. Look for more FIRE-Side chats to be featured here in the future. And if you are interested in a FIRE-Side chat yourself, give me a shout.

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

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18 Comments

  1. Great interview! I love the concept of funding lifestyle change as alternatives to funding complete financial independence. Although they’re both great goals, the lifestyle change goal can give you more flexibility and still bring you happiness.

  2. I love the idea of lifestyle change! Even though we both left our jobs, our plates are so full of good stuff “retired” doesn’t seem to fit, not at lest in the way 99% of people view retirement. And the mountains are very lovely in the Flathead valley (hint, hint), lots of schools too. 😉

    1. Hahahaha, we’re going to look at Canyon lake property tomorrow, but it sounds like Mrs. SSC is already anticipating they may not wow her enough to deal with that commute and those sacrifices. We’ll see.

      We are still coming up there for a week or more this summer around the 4th though. It’s always good to have backup plans because you never know when they may become “the plan.”

  3. Good interview Mr. SSC, and thanks for hosting them TGS. I enjoyed your uncomplicated response to the $1 million question. Nobody in the history of anything has ever been less excited about that amount of money : )

    1. Thanks, and when I went back and read my response to the $1 million question I thought, “Oh yeah, it does sound like I am very unimpressed by it, lol”. To be honest, I would probably dance a little jig and then start sending good bye emails to everyone at the office. Except for that little celebration though, I’d just invest it all. 🙂

  4. Nice interview Swan and SSC! Thoroughly enjoyed it. I have lived both in Texas and the East Coast. Life in the East Coast is very different. We loved it with the four seasons, and east coast is beautiful and has lot of history to it.

    If you like cold weather, which I love, then you will like it. If you like the weather in Texas, then you will find it tough on the east coast.

    1. That’s been our biggest debate – where to move. Recently, it’s back to staying in TX, but even as early as last year it was still looking at MT and ID as relocation spots. We’ve both loved the cold when we lived in Denver and Chicago for about 9 yrs each, but I have gotten used to the nice Gulf Coast winters. Our East coast spots would be the tri-state TN/VA/NC sort of area. I just miss the green of the Appalachians, and all the creeks and smell of the grass and corn in summer. I could see going back there pretty easily.

  5. Funny but we never tracked our expenses it – what we did was brown bag our lives.
    1. I was the plumber, electrician, gardener and handyman – she was the painter and coupon clipper extraordinaire
    2. We obstained from the $4 cup of coffee
    3. We saved 90% of all windfalls
    4. We invested in dividend paying brick and motor stocks
    5. We bought basic transportation, kept them up and drove them until the doors fell off.
    6. She baked the bread, bought the lunch meat and I had it for lunch.
    7. Entertainment was often a box movie no a pizza or Chinese

    Mostly we aren’t toy or golf people… oh I still work because it is often interesting but I haven’t had too for years.

    1. That’s another great way to go. We’ve hit most of the things on your checklist, and definitely not golf people. 🙂 I had someone asking me that this weekend, trying to point out how close we could be to a golf course. I have some toys that I like, but even that is getting less and less each year, and it’s covered with my allowance.

      That’s great that you were able to organically cut costs, and still keep life enjoyable.

  6. It’s funny how so many of us were impacted by “some mustache guy”. I’m touched by the love and respect you have for your wife/CFO Mr. SSC. The strength of two people working together towards a goal is powerful stuff.

    Great interview! Thank you, and JW for hosting!

    1. Indirectly or directly a lot of people were influenced by that guy. Of course my first reaction wasn’t positive, but I eventually came around.

      She is a pretty strong positive factor in my life and the kids lives. I know things would go south in a hurry if something happened to her, even with me trying 100%, lol. Two people working towards something is a pretty neat thing and it’s amazing the stuff that can come out of that shared goal/dream.

  7. Awesome interview!!! Having never lived on the West Coast I’m partial to the East coast but that’s because it’s all I know. When we hit FIRE I know that my wife wants to live by the beach. So that takes out the mountains for us 🙁

    1. I’d love to live by the beach too, but Mrs. SSC is more into mountains. Of course, we’re still only 1.5 hrs from a beach and have been the last 8 years now, lol. I like the East Coast and the mtns there seem more “comfortable” and inviting than the Rockies. However, the Rockies have an undescribable presence about them that just takes my breath awaya t times, so I’m happy in either spot really. 🙂

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